Hello, My name is John

**NOTE** This article may be a little different than my normal readers are used to. In fact I am posting it for a whole, brand new group of people. If you already know me, and you were looking forward to one of my normal articles about my training, racing, or why Kenyan distance runners are doing better than Americans, you can stop reading now if you like, those articles will continue to come, but this is not one of them. If you would like to learn more about my background, read on!

My name is John Coyle, and I am the new guy in town. Many of the people reading this article may be reading because you are customers and friends of Teton Running Company in Idaho Falls. If that is the case, then you know that my name I am the new manager for the store! I am extremely excited to meet all of you, get to know you, and get involved in the running community here in Idaho Falls, but first, here is a little bit about me.

I was born in Coeur d’Alene, ID and that is where I lived for my entire childhood, same house and everything. I was an only child, and I lived with my mom and dad, and later just my mom, in house that was about eight miles out of town on about two acres. A word of advice to parents, if you plan on living in the middle of nowhere, have more than one child. If you don’t, your child will be bored, when children get bored, bad things happen.

I loved sports growing up, all kinds of sports baseball, soccer, football, you name it, I either played it or I wanted to play it. My first love was baseball, and up until I was 14 I was absolutely convinced that I was going to play in the big leagues, but life had other plans for me. When I was young, I don’t remember how old, but elementary school aged, I got into these biathlons. It was just a run, bike race for different age groups. I was semi-talented and showed some promise, but I also had a lot more fun tackling people, and hitting balls with bats. In fact, I cared so little about running, I got second to last in my school’s fifth grade cross country race (there was this overweight kid that I totally out kicked.) 

My parents had a rule that I could only be in one sport at a time because they didn’t have time to be my personal taxi drivers all day, everyday. However, my middle school also had sports, they were free to sign up for, and they took care of all of the transportation. Thus, in eighth grade I did all of the sports my parents would allow, I played on football, basketball, and baseball teams outside the school and I wrestled, played basketball and ran track for the school. 

The first day of track practice, the coach said that she needed someone to break the school mile record because it had been standing for about 7 years. I joked that I would do it, which got a great laugh out of my friends (I was athletic, but I hated running.) After practice one of my friends was complimenting the extent of my pre-teen wit by stating how impossible it would actually be for me to break the mile record. It was at this point that I decided that I actually would be breaking the mile record, cause I could do anything I wanted. I thought, “how hard could it really be, you don’t even have to run as fast as you can, you just have to jog and not stop.” 

Despite the talent that I showed in middle school track and field, I was still in love with team sports, and it wasn’t until my sophomore year that I was convinced to quit football and run cross country instead. I fell in love with running that fall. I didn’t quite fall in love with the pain, and monotony of it, but I fell in love with the competition, the pure, physical contest, uninfluenced by style, or politics, or anything but who can cover ground the fastest. It was a hard decision but I decided not to play baseball and run Track instead. I made this decision partly because I realized I would be better at the shorter distance races that Track and Field had to offer, and partly because I have never been able to do something halfway. I knew that if I was going to run, I would have to run track, otherwise I would never be as good as I could be. 

An Image to Illustrate that John Coyle was the Idaho State Champion in the 800m

My Junior year of high school, I won the 5A State Title in the 800m

I had some success my sophomore year of track, but my best season in high school was, by far, my Junior year, track season. I won 5A State Titles in the 800m and the Sprint Medley Relay. I also made it to the Junior Olympic National Championships that year where I placed 1st in the 2k Steeplechase, and 6th in the 1500m.

Winning the 2k Steeplechase got me some notice from a few different colleges. Weber State University, the college I eventually chose, was particularly interested in my ability to run the Steeplechase. Weber State is known as a “Steeple School,” they are very good at it. The fact that I already had a proven ability to run the event as a high schooler made me a very attractive recruit to them.

A Picture of John Coyle leading a cross country race in Weber State University uniform

I had a good enough career at Weber State to pursue distance running as a professional

My coach at Weber State University was Paul Pilkington, and I had a fantastic experience with him and my teammates. Sometimes I wonder, if I had it to do over again, would I pick a different school? While there are some options that may have been better for the professional distance running career that I am now pursuing, I met some of my best friends at Weber State. I had some amazing role models. I had one of the most knowledgable coaches that I have ever met, I met the most important person in my life, my wife, and I was able to progress to a point in my running that I am pursuing a professional career in distance running, which is a huge blessing.

In college I majored in Electronic Media, which is just a fancy way of saying that I learned a mix of media production (video, graphic design, etc.) and management (marketing, social media, etc.) After college I spent some time looking for a job as a graphic designer or video editor. After spending some time designing marketing materials for a company that builds custom homes, I realized, that running is my passion. Not only the pursuit of excellence in the sport, but the industry itself. It was at this point that I began looking for a career in the running specialty industry. 

In high school I worked for the running store in Coeur d’Alene as a sales associate. I had a great experience there. I learned from some people who had been in the industry a long time, and had more knowledge than I could fathom. I took some time off from working in college to pursue academics and athletics full-time. Then, the summer between my Junior and Senior year of college, I went back to work at a running store in Logan, Utah. I spent some time as the sales associate there, and after graduation, I took over managing their social media profiles and blog. 

I am extremely excited to be a part of the Teton Running Company team and to continue to pursue my career on the performance side of running. I can’t wait to meet everyone here in Idaho Falls, and get involved with the running community.

Stay tuned tomorrow to hear about some of the ideas I have for Teton Running Company. If anyone has any ideas, or suggestions, I would love to meet you and hear them! You can also follow my blog here at WordPress, or join me on twitter, my handle is @johnjhcoyle.

Poverty Prevails: Financial Instability Might Actually Help Kenyans be Better Distance Runners

Geoffrey Mutuai Wins Boston Marathon Prize Purse

Geoffrey Mutai won the 2011 Boston Marathon. A prize purse that is now up to $150K for the winner.

Ask any professional American distance runner, if it is better to work to pay the bills and run on the side, or rely on running to pay the bills, and I can guarantee that there is no guarantee what his or her answer will be. For example, my college coach, Paul Pilkington talks about experiencing both. He tells us stories of working full-time, and competing as a professional distance runner. He also tells us about having a family of five to support with running as his only employment. Although he has never told me, flat-out, which he believes to be the better route for a professional distance runner, I get the sense from talking to him about it, that he believes that having the extra motivation of supporting a family with prize money and bonuses did wonders for his athletic career. He worked as a history teacher, and when he talks about running, he likes to refer to the general who landed on territory he planned on conquering, once all of the General’s soldiers were off the ships, he sent the ships home, indicating they are either going to conquer or die.

However, you get the other side of things too. American Marathoner Tyler McCandless talks in an article on his website about how competitive Marathoning has become very tactical, and many runners run extremely conservatively in order to achieve financial benefits. He talks about the importance of forgetting about trying to place and bring home a paycheck, and actually trying to win. McCandless has had an extremely progressive 2013, and I believe he may be one of the Marathoners to watch. By this logic (important to note that I am not claiming this to be Tyler McCandless’ opinion,) having a secure job that pays the bills would, in theory, free you to run how you want, when you want, and not have to worry about starving. However, this balance of pursuing Olympic dreams and paying the bills often leaves runners in a sort of play-it-safe-limbo no matter which route they choose.

There are articles and debates to be had about this issue, and the truth of it is it is probably different for everyone. However, this article is not about this issue. This article is purely about the financial issue in running, and its pertinence across nationalities. My point here is that American Distance Runners make this choice, and for some of them, going all in on running is the right choice, but for some it is not.

I want to illustrate that point, because for Kenyan distance runners, there is no choice. The Average income in Kenya is around $1,700 per year. Kenyans don’t have the option of trying to place themselves on a varying economic scale. They have a choice between being in the top 1%, or being very poor. Before, we get too sentimental (not to downplay the poverty in Kenya, it is a real issue,) I and many others believe this is part of what makes them so good as distance runners.

At some point in time, Kenyans realized that there is this sport that they just happen to be better than most of the world at. The people who are really good at this sport make money. In some cases, they make more money in 2 hours than an average Kenyan will make in their entire life. Thus, every Kenyan who hoped to have more than extreme poverty saw this sport as a way, possibly the only way, to do that. Since the sport is so highly regarded as an escape from poverty, many Kenyans give it a go. Any high school coach will tell you, the more kids you get out, the better shot you have at being good. It is a numbers game, there is bound to be talent in some kids, it’s just a matter of discovering it.

Thus in Kenya the most talented runners are discovered, and even the less talented runners grow up training and racing alongside them. If you were to ask Kobe Bryant’s high school teammates about him, I bet that they would tell you that he made them better. There is a similar effect in running.

Not only does the financial disaster in Kenya contribute to a high desire to run, it also allows for a freedom in professional running. If a Kenyan gets good enough to be able to get into a situation where he or she can compete in some races outside of Kenya that is it, that is his or her shot. Some say they want it more, or they are mentally tougher. I don’t think that Kenyans want to be great runners any more than Americans do, but they do want the money more. The money means more to them. The Kenyan mindset going into a race is different than the American mindset. To a Kenyan, whose fallback plan is poverty and oppression the thought process is, “I am going to go for the win in the race and that will change my life, even if I don’t win, and I fade to one of the money spots, that will go a long way.” That only has to work out for them one time, and then they are free, they can continue to run, or not, but they are free from that weight of worrying about poverty. That is not how most Americans approach a race, and certainly not the ones who may have an outside shot at winning or being the top American, but are, in general, mid-tier professionals. For Americans it’s all about the long-term approach. It’s all about progression and building. In general, Americans do have longer careers than Kenyans. However, Americans, in general, AREN’T winning major marathons.

As I have said before, there are, in my opinion all kinds of contributing factors to Kenyan success. I have even touched on some of them here, and I will continue to article my thoughts about the other factors. However, if your option were be a great runner, or raise your family in extreme poverty and harsh conditions, taking a shot would be a no brainer.

Group Training: The Kenyan Secret?

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          The strength of the pack is the wolf; the strength of the wolf is the pack. Rudyard Kipling wrote that during his long, and well received writing career. What’s more, in the book Once a Runner it states that Kipling was a 4:30 miler, a feat that would have been extremely impressive at his time (I have not been able to confirm Kipling’s ability as a runner, but in review I think that he was probably not, actually, a 4:30 miler. The book was simply making an attempt at satire.)

 

            The quote, however, does have a place in the running world. As it happens, this quote was painted in giant letters around my high school cafeteria (we were the Timberwolves.) Its relevance was brought to mind in thinking of a recent conversation I had with a Kenyan distance runner. August 8th through August 10th I was in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania for the GNC Live Well Liberty Mile. I was assigned a roommate named Emmanuel Bor, a Kenyan national who ran in the NCAA at the University of Alabama.

 

            Bor is, obviously, not the most accomplished Kenyan distance runner in the world. However, he has run some rather impressive races, and has some very impressive range, boasting a 3:42 1500 pr, accompanied by a 28:39 road 10k. More importantly though is that he has spent time with other Kenyan distance runners, both here on U.S. soil and in his native Kenya. He has spent time training in both locations.

 

            When you talk to African distance runners, you will get an extremely varied level of communication. There are some that don’t speak any English at all. I ran into an Ethiopian a couple times this summer that just nodded and laughed all the time. I don’t know how he managed to make all of his travel arrangements (It is important to note that his smiling, laughing, nodding demeanor seemed extremely friendly and humble.) Then there are some like Bor. I wouldn’t call Bor “Americanized.” He still has a very strong sense of his Kenyan culture. He is, however, rather intelligent (not that others are not, just that he is,) and has a very good grasp on the English language and American culture.

 

            What, I would say, I loved most about being Emmanuel’s roommate is that we got to talk about running for, like, a day-and-a-half straight. I love to talk running, and generally it’s others who want to change the subject. Emmanuel stuck right in there with me though. We, of course, got to the issue of “what makes Kenyans so much better than Americans?”

 

            I think it is important to acknowledge that there are a number of factors that make East Africans such good distance runners. However, I am going to save other factors for other posts. The reason I would like to acknowledge in this post is the one Bor gave me, “In Kenya, everybody train together. Maybe tomorrow, you beat me in the race, but if we run together and train together everyday, I get as good as you soon. If we keep training together, I start to move up and get faster, you know you can too. Then you go, and try and be faster, and we keep moving up, going back and forth like that. That is how it is in Kenya.” Emmanuel went on to explain that literally EVERYONE trains together in Kenya. The marathoners train with the 800-meter runners. He talked about how, here in the U.S. Galen Rupp trains, “over here,” and Ryan Hall trains, “over here,” and Nick Symmonds trains, “over here,” this was all accompanied by hand movements to signify that they are, indeed, training in different locations (note that Nick Symmonds and Galen Rupp are both members of the Oregon Track Club, but they have different coaches and do not train together.) He then went on to offer the question, “don’t you think those guys have something to give each other? They could make each other better.” Emmanuel further explained that other Kenyans are welcome to join the group. In Kenya, his accomplishments are mediocre, but he is still welcome to join the others to train.

 

            Before we go off on rants and raves saying that this is it, this is the big Kenyan secret, let’s remember that there are other explanations. Let’s also remember that this isn’t entirely off of the American model of training, the same thing exists to some degree.

 

            American coaches and athletes have accepted the concept of group training. There are professional training groups around the nation that embrace this concept, some of the more notable including the Zap Fitness Group, the Austin Track Club, the New Jersey – New York Track Club, Rogue Athletic Club, The Hansons’ Brooks Olympic Distance Project, and of course, the very well known Oregon Track Club. These groups have even seen the value in having members with different skill sets.

 

            In the sect of the Oregon Track Club coached by Alberto Salazar we see Matt Centrowitz, a prominent 1500 meter runner, Galen Rupp, a world class 10k man, and Luke Puskedra, a half-marathon specialist on his way up to the marathon. Having athletes from a varied background gives each athlete the opportunity to workout with someone who is strong where they are weak. Galen Rupp gets to hammer out speed sessions with a 1500 runner who can kick with the best of them, and Centrowitz powers through long threshold runs, being pushed all the while by Puskedra, a 61 minute half-marathoner. Each day someone is going to be feeling good, someone is going to challenge the others to work hard. Each day, each athlete has to step up or be left behind. This is how the Kenyans do it, and this is what these groups are trying to replicate.

 

            We see the success of these groups as well. In 2013 10 out of the 12 distance runners on the U.S. World Championships Track and Field Team were from training groups like this. The other two athletes were from different situations where they benefit from group training, but are not part of an official training group. These groups have fostered a rise in American distance running. It is no longer the case that the top American is hoping for a spot in an Olympic or World Championship final. Athletes like Evan Jager, Leo Manzano, Galen Rupp, and Matt Centrowitz are serious contenders for, or already have, international hardware. There are people from the U.S. who don’t take part in these traditional training groups who are also contenders such as Bernard Lagat, and Meb Keflezighi. However, the U.S. has always had those outliers who are very good, and they are, often times, not natives of the United States (I point that out only to speak to their genetic makeup, not their country loyalty. A post for a different time.) The rise of these groups truly has made the United States a powerhouse in world distance running.  However, we seem to still be a step behind the East African Countries. Let’s take a look at some differences in the group-training model between them and us.

 

            If I wanted to train with Chris Solinsky, Evan Jager, and Matt Tegenkamp, I would have no idea how to go about doing it, nor would I be included if I did somehow get in touch with their coach, Jerry Schumacher. I am a good runner, yes, but that group, along with Al-Sal’s group is exclusive. You have to already have some street cred to get in, and while my running resume is by no means weak. It is, most definitely, not at the level of the guys in those groups. Taking it a step down and looking at some other programs around the nation. Most of the training groups I have talked to have been interested in me joining. However, they would, most likely, not be interested in some of the other guys from my college team who were conference level runners.

 

            That leads me to the first difference I see between our model and the Kenyan model, exclusivity. You have to be proven to a certain degree to become a part of these groups, it’s like applying for a job. Furthermore, some of them are invite only. The Kenyan model that Emmanuel described to me was all-inclusive. He was allowed to train with Olympic gold medalists.

 

             I think this is one reason you see so much greater depth from Kenya than the U.S. It’s true that our group training method has fostered top-level contenders. However, there are countless, competitive road races around this country. Often times the mid-tier, up-and-coming, or marathon-oriented professionals make their living on these races, and as a general rule, the East Africans who are entered in the race tend to fare much better that the Americans. There is, quite often, even “American Money,” prize money that is exclusively for Americans so as not to discourage Americans from entering the races because they will finish low in the prize money due to the overwhelming talent of the African contingent. The fact that Emmanuel, a mid-tier, road racing Kenyan, and countless others like him are able to train with the top runners in the entire world may be a contributing factor to the alarming depth of Kenyan distance running.

 

            There are some valid reasons for our model. First of all, there are a lot of coaches, a lot of athletes, and a lot of locations in the United States. Not all coaches, or runners for that matter, have the same philosophy on the best way to train distance runners. We all agree on the general grand scheme of an effective training model. We disagree on the logistics. We all agree that you have to run quite a bit, you have to work hard, you have to push yourself, and you have to stay healthy. The most effective way to do those things is a point of contention though. This makes for a number of coaches who have differing opinions, each with a stable of athletes that buys into their approach.

 

            Furthermore there are the economics to worry about. The whole economic scheme of things here as opposed to Kenya is a reason, in and of itself that can contribute. However, coaches and athletes have to earn a living here. That’s not to say that they don’t in Kenya, it just doesn’t take as much of income there. Not everything is money driven. Athletes can afford to train full-time, and not work, and still be able to survive, and so can coaches.

 

            If the training groups in the U.S. were to be all-inclusive, who would stop the 4:30 marathoners, or the 4:30 milers from showing up? How would any coach be able to make a living? Generally, the elite athletes don’t have to pay their coach a monthly fee (sometimes there is a prize money percentage,) but non-elites do. If an elite group were all-inclusive, why would there be a need to pay a coach or even have coaches on the high school and college level (coaches do have administrative duties, but someone could be hired on a part-time/as needed basis to take care of this?) This may all sound great to the casual runner, or even to the above average runner who has to pay for their coaching, but these coaches have spent a lot of time on a very specific skill set, so that they could commit all of their energy to what they love; and be able to provide for themselves and their families. If we take that away we will either have homeless, or less committed coaches.

 

            This leads me to the final difference between the U.S. group training system and the Kenyan group training system; the financial situation of the athletes. Again, the financial factor is something that can be explored in another article, but without going too in-depth, I will say that the financial climate in Kenya is on that allows an athlete to relocate, and throw everything they have into running. The financial climate in the United States is not.

 

            Hypothetically speaking, let’s say somebody read my blog and thought, “let’s change this, let’s get one big group together with all the top guys, and let anyone in who wants in.” Let’s say that person somehow broke all the logistical barriers previously stated and pulled it off. Then, let’s say that person called me up and said, “I’ve done it. You have the chance to train with Hall, Meb, Rupp, Centro, Manzano, Jager, True, etc. There will also be numerous athletes that are at a level between where you are and where they are. There will be guys where you are, and there will be guys that aren’t at your level. Anyone who wants in is in.”

 

            I still don’t know if I would go. In fact, I probably wouldn’t unless it were somewhere in Northern Utah, or they could somehow guarantee me a job. I would think, “what a fantastic opportunity, I would love to do it, but how am I going to pay rent? How am I going to provide for my family? How am I going to eat?” In the U.S. you have such a wide array of financial need on the part of the athlete that it is simply not possible to get everyone to one location, or even two locations, or even five.

 

            Now, before anyone goes picking apart the fact that I have based my entire blog on the testimony on one Kenyan distance runner, I will say that I don’t know for certain that this is the state of the Kenyan group training system. This blog is based on the hypothetical group training system that he described, and the things that make that type of training system possible in Kenya. I think that the fact that Americans from training groups have risen, and continue to rise to the gauntlet that has been laid by the East African distance runners is a testimony that group training works. The overall purpose of this article is not a call to action; it is a call to discussion. What are differences between these two models? What are the strengths of theirs? What are the strengths of ours?

 

            Ultimately I think we have seen group training as beneficial to Kenyans, and we have replicated it in ways that we can. The best we can do is continuing to improve within our means. Keep an eye out for my next article on contributing factors to East African dominance.

Slaying a New Beast

 

 

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           I have been somewhat removed from the blogging world for a few weeks now.  To be quite honest though, there has not been much to blog about. My last post was directly after the CVS 5k, where I drastically underperformed. The next weekend I ran a low-key 10k in Spokane Washington. I generally wouldn’t have traveled that far for the prize money I won in that race, but Spokane just happens to be about half an hour from my hometown of Coeur d’Alene Idaho. I spent a couple of days visiting friends and family and then came home.

 

            Since that race, I have run very little, aside from Saturday when I jogged a half-marathon in 1:30 with a friend of mine, I have not run more than 40 minutes, and I have not even gone close to everyday. This is the first time in my running career I have had this kind of break. Generally, when you are a high school, or collegiate distance runner, there is an imminent racing season on the horizon. A break longer than 5-7 days cannot be afforded. On the one hand it has been nice to rest and re-charge my batteries. On the other hand, I am starting to feel like a big blob of disgustingness.

 

            I plan to take this week pretty easy, start working back into things next week. The first real running I will do will be the week after that. I will begin to build some base, and some threshold strength for the U.S. Half Marathon Championships in January. At this point my plan is to use that as a springboard into some longer distance road racing throughout the spring and summer.

 

            This is a brand new beast for me. In years past my entire spring and summer has been completely focused on the steeplechase. If I had a secondary event, it would be the 1500. I’m not sure I am ready to give the steeplechase up, but I want to explore my different options. I want to find out where my greatest potential lies. Thus I am doing something extremely different and focusing on races distances between 10k and half marathon (maybe a supplemental 5k here and there.)

 

            In light of my change in training, and due to the fact that I will not have much to blog about during this long training block, I think I will tackle a different beast in my blogging as well. It is by no means an issue that has not been touched on by others, but I would like to talk about issues in our sport at the professional level, and how we can improve them. I will be making an attempt to get these posts widely publicized (at least more widely than just on my blog.) The idea is to spark discussion, and for that discussion to lead to action.

 

            I would appreciate any feedback by anyone who does happen across my blog, and I would love for anyone and everyone to stay tuned for the discussion.

Welcome to Monster Island

I have had countless numbers of people say to me “I don’t understand how you run so fast,” or, “I could never go that fast.” These are common phrases amongst the casual finishers of any road race about the elite athletes.  Don’t get me wrong, I realize this is praise, and I appreciate it. I usually respond with a “thank you,” or some stupid remark like “there was a lot of downhill.” I generally try to engage these people at least a little and get them at least semi-interested in distance running on the professional level. After all, who would understand a sub 14:00 5k better than the person who’s hands to the knees after a 23:00 5k.

 

            Here is the fact of the matter though. There are a LOT of people who don’t even consider me fast enough to let into their race. Yesterday at the U.S. road championships in the 5k I ran 14:59 for 22nd place (17th American.) The winner ran 13:45. That is 1:14 faster than I ran. To your average competitor, that doesn’t sound like much at all, but to put into perspective, if we were running 12 and ½ laps (5k) around the track, he would have lapped me.

 

            While this was a rather bad and disappointing race for me, this has been my experience this summer with high-level road racing. While my tricks may impress the crowd at the local 5k or half-marathon, I have thrice traveled to national caliber road races in the last two months, thrice felt I was in good enough shape to compete for the win, and thrice got my butt handed to me, and went home with nothing but empty pockets and red marks on my bum from the spankings I took. To make matters worse, in recent weeks I have felt that I am in some of the best shape of my life. I am, at very least, very close to being the strongest I have ever been.

 

Before I go on, I want to state that I have had the opportunity to meet some absolutely incredible athletes. I have learned a lot about training, racing, and working the professional scene. However, the fact is that I have had some decent races on a local level this summer, and some absolute horrible races when I have spent big money to travel to big races where there was big bucks on the line (or at the line I suppose you could say.) This ugly, and hard to face fact has made me wonder if I really should be doing this.

 

It has always been my dream to wear a USA Jersey; it has always been my dream to win international hardware. I have always given everything I could (at the time) to running, I have always been as committed to it as I could healthily be and still maintain balance in my life. Sometimes my pursuit of this dream has teetered on leaving my life unbalanced. I believe in myself, I believe in hard work, I believe in this sport because it is black and white (although there is some gray area when you get to a high level, but that is a post for a different time.) However, I don’t only have myself to think about. I am married, my wife is going to school, that costs money, If I ever want to have children (we do eventually,) that will cost money. I spend a lot of time on running. That time could be spent with my wife, or working on a more reliable source of income. At this point I have made about $1,400 in prize money and travel stipends this summer. I have spent about $2,000 dollars. That is what people in business call “a loss.” I want it to be clear that my wife and my family are the most important things in my life, and the doubt I have about running, are only out of my love and concern for them.

 

But here is the bottom line.

 

My goal is to wear a USA jersey; my goal is to bring home international hardware. It always has been, and anyone who is at my level and says that isn’t their ultimate goal is either lying to you, or themselves. We didn’t get here because we quit when we ran into some bad races.

I had the opportunity to talk to Kenyon Neuman, a former University of Colorado athlete who has trained under the legendary Mark Wetmore. Wetmore has a saying that goes, “When you live on Monster Island, someone is breathing fire everyday.”

I go into every race thinking I can win, even if it is only an outside shot, I never count myself out. Everyone who trains and competes at the level that I do, thinks the same way. Some may call me arrogant or stupid for thinking I can beat guys like Aaron Braun, or Matt Tegenkamp, or Andrew Bumbalough. I’m not though; I am calling a spade a spade. Everyone on Monster Island is a monster. Everyone is winner; you don’t become a monster without that mentality.

My dream is to be an international competitor; my number one priority is my family. I will do whatever it takes to make the two coincide. If I have to race more on a local level to earn more money, I will. If I have to move up to the marathon, because there is more money, and less travel involved, I will.

 

The bottom line is I am a monster. I belong on Monster Island. This year, I didn’t bring my legs to the big races. I wasn’t breathing fire, and the other monsters burned me, but someday, I will bring my legs, someday I will be breathing fire, and I will burn them, and I will be doing it when it is most important. 

The Top Of Utah Half Marathon

            I have spent the last few months talking with coaches, agents, shoe companies, and race directors, I have had to type out my running credentials so many times I should probably have a word document saved on my computer to save me time. In the repetition of my credentials I have realized that they truly do not reflect the work I have done, or the fitness I have had at certain points of my competitive running career. They are especially soft in the longer races. In fact, I wasn’t even able to procure a compensated elite entry to the Deseret News 10k due to my lack of any impressive time in any distance over 3,000 meters. Given I remedied that a bit at the Deseret News 10k, there are still some serious holes in my resume in the distance events. For example, I received an e-mail today that said, “I just looked over your running resume. You have never been in a competitive 5k? How did that happen!?”

            I feel a slight need to defend myself, and my college, distance coach. First of all, I was pure middle distance guy in High School, I carried a 1:55.1 800 pr, and a 4:19 1600, my 3200 dropped off to 9:40 (I even ran 50 flat for the 400.) It took quite awhile in the collegiate system to develop into a halfway decent distance runner. I came to school in the fall of 2008 and I couldn’t run a good race over a mile with any consistency to speak of until 2012 (Why put a kid in a 5k when he will run anywhere from 8:30 or 9:30 in the 3k depending on the day, especially if he can run a 4:12 mile at altitude forwards, backwards, sideways, or on his hands.)

            Lack of long race experience considered, one might imagine how nervous I was for Saturday’s Top of Utah Half Marathon . . . not nervous at all. I had nothing to lose; this isn’t even a competitive distance for me. I was going for a long run anyway, I like to keep my long runs at a high tempo anyway, might as well have some company and some aid stations along the way. Not to mention the prize money.

            I kicked around the idea of the TOU Half originally as a workout, and determined it was sort of a nothing-to-lose venture. However, as the race approached, and the level of competition came into focus I decided I would race . . . hard. Why? I have had a few discussions with some former and current professionals lately and they gave me the advice to figure out what my ultimate goal is in running, and figure out how running will fit into my life with those closest to me. With all that in mind I have been thinking about my long time goal of making an Olympic team in the steeplechase. There is almost literally no money in the steeplechase. In fact, there is, sadly, almost no money in professional Track and Field. Athletes can earn some money by heading overseas in the summer, but in order to make anything noteworthy, I would have to be gone for three months out of the year, racing three times a week. That doesn’t sound realistic with a family and a job.  This is the reality of professional Track and Field for all, save the top 3 or 4 men and women in each event.

            The more common route for professional distance runners is to turn to road racing. There is more money, more varied distances; race directors are willing to assist you with travel. The only downfall to the roads is that there is only one route to the Olympics, and that route is 26.2 miles long. The point to all this is that the TOU Half Marathon was an assessment of sorts for me. I was using the race to assess my potential in longer form road racing.  

            That being said, I was shocked at the amount of very good runners who decided to run the Top of Utah Half this year considering it is one of the lower-paying half marathons in the state (I think it should be noted that the TOU Half race directors recognized the quality of their field and substantially increased the prize purse, that is a very classy thing for them to do.)

            It was a fun experience toeing the starting line with so many quality runners. It was also a fun experience to toe the starting line and be looking downhill. I think the quality of the field made the other elites rather hesitant though. I had planned on being conservative early in the race, because I would rather go out conservatively and be coming on late in the race than go out too hard and blow up. It seemed everyone had the same idea early on. We ran through the first half-mile pretty slowly. I am not sure how slow; I also wasn’t sure how easy the beginning of a half marathon is supposed to feel. However, a few minutes of that was enough for Jake Krong, a sub 2:20 marathoner. He made a decisive move about 1k into the race. With him went Bryant Jensen, another 2:20 marathoner and former teammate of mine at Weber State. Bryant has won three of the larger Utah Marathons this summer including the Salt Lake Marathon. He also took 48th at the USA Half Marathon Championships, I considered him to be the favorite to win this race.

            Knowing Bryant was no pretender I still decided against going with the early leaders. As I said I had resolved to stay relaxed in the early miles of the race. Shortly after Jake and Bryant made their break, Riley Cook, a prolific road racer in Utah, and Jacob Howell, fresh off a win at the Hobble Creek Half Marathon, formed a chase pack. I also contented not to go with them, as it was still too early in the race for me. However, I did keep about a 10-15 second rope on them, so that I could change gears and catch them fairly quickly if need be.

            It didn’t take long for the chase pack to catch the early leaders. The four had formed a lead pack by about mile 2, with me about 15 seconds back. At this point I realized that I was going to have to make a pit stop. I held off for a few minutes, but I was only delaying the inevitable. I pulled off, and by the time I was back in the race, the lead pack that I had in view was long gone, and I was back in eighth place.

            I worked my way back up to 5th over the next few miles, and I had the leaders back in view. At the bottom of Blacksmith Fork Canyon Riley and Jake had broken away and Jacob and Bryant were battling for third (Bryant appeared to be winning the battle.) I locked in on the next guy in front of me and just focused on making him bigger. I used a technique I read about once and I would highly recommend it. I imagined that there was a rope attached to the guy in front of me, and that I was steadily pulling on the rope. “Tug on the rope,” I thought, I hit 8 miles and he was only about six or seven seconds in front of me. I kept tugging and caught him shortly after the 8-mile mark. “OK,” I thought, “new rope.” Now there was a rope attached to Bryant that I was tugging on rather rapidly, I closed his 30 second lead to about 8 seconds by the ninth mile. We made the turn off of Hollow Road, and there was my wife cheering for me. I would like to say, that it really helped to have her encouragement, and I really appreciate her coming to watch me race, but that put to rest the sneak attack I had going on Bryant. The last 8 seconds took the next mile to close and I pulled even with him at about mile 10.

            “What’s up?” he said. “Had to go to the bathroom about 3 miles in,” I said. This was a strange experience; I have never been able to talk during a race before. “Yea,” he said, “I went out too fast with Jake, the last couple miles have sucked. They’re finally starting to come back now.” As cool as being able to talk mid-race was, we were 10 miles into a half marathon, about a minute back from the leaders, and I was still feeling pretty fresh. The conversation stopped there, and I wasn’t sure what to do, Bryant had clearly quickened his tempo to stay with me when I caught him. I didn’t know if I was ready to shift yet, I didn’t know how I was supposed to feel 10 miles in. I tested Bryant a few times, I picked it up slightly and he matched. I settled back in, then a few minutes later I picked it up again and he matched again. I thought it apparent that he was going to battle me all the way in. At this point I contented to tuck in behind him for a bit. After a few minutes I thought, “If we’re going to have a battle, we might as well work together to catch the leaders and battle with them too.” I took over to keep the pace honest, I figured we could switch leads and try and reel Jake in, at least (Riley had put a small gap on Jake.) However, when I took the lead back over, Bryant dropped off. I didn’t feel that I had picked up the pace much, but maybe I did, either way, I was on my own again.

            At the 11-mile mark I was a short distance in front of Bryant and quite a ways behind Jake. I attached my mental rope to him and started pulling, but I needed to be pulling rapidly at this point. I continued to close, but by the time we reached the top of Millville hill and closed in on the 12-mile mark I realized that Riley was out of range, and Jake was running strong. There might be a possibility I could have caught him, now that I think back on it, but it seemed unlikely enough at the time that I didn’t try to drop a 4:20 last mile to do it. I think part of it may be because when money is on the line, it makes you a little more hesitant to make a move you are unsure if you can finish, for all I knew Bryant was back there waiting for me to make a mistake and blow up, so he could catch and pass me when I was defenseless. To my knowledge the prize money still only went three deep, if Bryant caught me, my 13-mile effort was for not (financially anyway.)

            I glimpsed the clock at the 13-mile mark and it was somewhere around 1:05:45, too high for me to kick to a sub-1:06. So I kept my pace through the finish line for a 1:06:10. In all the race felt pretty easy (as easy as a 13 mile tempo run can feel, anyway.)

            Furthermore I accomplished my goal. Based on the training I have been doing lately (which is not half marathon training,) the pit stop I had to make, and how I felt at the end, I think that my potential, at least at the half marathon distance, is just as good as my potential in the steeplechase. While I haven’t decided if I will begin to go exclusively into long form road racing, and eventually pursue the marathon, I think this definitely helped my decision. As for right now I still have a road mile in Minnesota, and U.S. Road 5k Championships on the short-term schedule. However, my time did qualify me for $200 travel assistance to the U.S. Half Marathon Championships in January. The U.S. Half Champs is one of the most financially beneficial road races there is, and it is in Houston, which is a very fast course. I think I will try and run fast there. That will be another indicator of whether professional career should get longer or shorter.

 

Check out some pictures of me in my shiny new Runners North Jersey. I haven’t purchased any, but Zazoosh takes pretty good event photographs. http://www.zazoosh.com/events/searchPhotos/816?bib=2476

3000 Tentative Meters

Sometimes, in running, it is hard to be honest with yourself when things are going badly. While you can feel something is wrong, admitting it to yourself is almost like admitting defeat. On the one hand it can be nice to realize that something physical truly is wrong, nice to have a plan of action to get your running back on track. On the other hand, in the course of an NCAA season when you have no choice but to race on. This admission and realization that something is wrong with your body can shatter your already fragile mental state, and in effect shatter the thread of hope you are hanging onto that you will be able to achieve your goals. Mental attitude is a funny thing. It seems that when you are fit and fast, you are always tough. However, when your fitness isn’t what you would like it to be, and you need that mental toughness the most, it is surprisingly scarce.

That being said, I did have more confidence entering the Big Sky Conference Indoor 3k than I was, likely, entitled to. However, even this unexplained confidence

( https://johncoylerunblog.wordpress.com/2013/02/21/unexplained-confidence/ )

was rather fragile. Nevertheless, I went to the starting line with fresh legs, and an optimistic outlook.

I was lucky to know in advance that there would be 23 athletes in the Men’s 3k. I was also lucky, having run on Montana State University’s track on multiple occasions, to be armed with the knowledge that these 23 athletes would be crammed onto a 4-lane, high-banked, plank of wood with long turns and stiflingly short straightaways. Had I not known these things before the start of the race, the trace of confidence I had may have been completely erased as I stood in the second of four rows of athletes on the starting line and thought “This is gonna be a C.F.”

Often times when I race I go blank, I couldn’t tell you afterwards what I was thinking about during the race, I have bits and pieces that I can identify, but its as if the race were a dream that I remember only vaguely. . . I do remember clear as day a giant cluster of athletes being called to the line and jogging a full 10 meters to get there. I generally like to take my time getting to the line, but after walking a few steps, I realized I was holding up traffic, so I trotted the rest of the way, then . . .

BANG!

The race (somehow) got off to a clean start, and I (somehow) got into decent position without much effort. Two Eastern Washington University Athletes jumped into the early lead and took the pace out fast, very fast. . . Nobody bit. Diego Estrada (https://twitter.com/estradadiego) led the Northern Arizona crew, and Mike hardy, followed by Two Southern Utah Athletes, then me. I sat in about 9th or 10th early on. Although I was as confident as the situation could permit, I was not confident enough to be much more aggressive than that. Early laps went without a hitch, The Eastern Washington Athletes were realed in and passed within in 600 meters or so, other than that, nothing significant enough for me to remember happened. I worked my way into scoring position.

Just hang tough, work your way, up, feeling good, we’ll see what you can do when the race starts. 5 laps to go . . . wait . . . 6 laps, the lap counter says six laps, are they wrong, or am I wrong?

Miscounting the laps is the first thing I remember clearly in the race. The fact that this didn’t derail my race is a testament to either my maturity as a runner (this is what I would like to think it was,) or the fact that I really wasn’t running a hard enough race (this is what it probably was.)

Get to 1000, just pass anyone you come to, they are slowing, get to 800, the race is happening now, there are a lot of points right there in front of you, stay poised 7th place, I’m in 7th, I’m gonna score.

As I came by Coach Pilkington with just under 600 meters left I heard him yell, “Get excited now John.” He knew I had the wheels to do some serious damage. Then, there it was, with exactly 400 to go the entire field condensed in front of me. Diego Estrada had put the hurt on as soon as he passed the Eastern Washington guys, effectively stringing the field out, but somehow, magically, 2nd through 6th place all came together with 400 meters to go, all of them running in a big bunch within a stride of each other with me only about 2 strides behind and with plenty in the tank. However, a season filled with injury, illness, and inflammation damages more than just the body.

Here is what my thought process would have been during the fall when I was fit and everything was going well: “Oh, Look at that, 6 points, one convenient location.” This was my actual thought process: “GET SEVENTH, GET SEVENTH, GET SEVENTH.” The fact is, I really wasn’t hurting that badly, I knew it then, and I knew it after the race. What I was, was scared. When all you’ve done all season is rig up, fade, and under-achieve, it’s hard to believe that the same won’t happen. i am not saying that I most definitely had the wheels to pass anyone, or everyone that was in that pack, but I am most definitely saying that if I had went for it, and thrown caution to the wind . . . I might have.

In the end a 7th place finish at conference not a disappointment, in fact it was probably more than my coaches expected of me, and, considering I was ranked 12th, it was like a free t-shirt as far as team points go. I am not entirely disappointed with the finish. I am more disappointed with the season in general. However, I have learned a great deal about my training, and what my body can handle, and for the first time in months I am actually excited to get back to training, and progressing (after and adequate break.) Most of all I have learned that once the gun sounds, the only thing that matters is that race, not your other races, not your training, but what are you going to do, right then, in THAT race.